Southwest Airlines names new tech chief after holiday debacle

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has named a new technology chief, Lauren Woods, the company said Wednesday, a move that comes before the company came under fire for its December holiday debacle. Already planned.

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Woods succeeds Kathleen Merrill, senior vice president and chief information officer, who decided to retire in December as executive advisor. Merrill has held the role since 2017 and joined the airline in 2004.

Chief Executive Bob Jordan has previously introduced Woods as the incoming chief information officer, but the company has yet to formally announce the leadership change.

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“Lauren’s extensive experience well-prepares her for this important role, as she has built a strong reputation as an innovation and change leader within our technology division and across the company,” Jordan said in a statement. .”

Lauren Woods, senior vice president and chief information officer, Southwest Airlines.
Lauren Woods, senior vice president and chief information officer, Southwest Airlines.(Southwest Airlines)

Woods will play a key role at the company as Southwest tries to upgrade its technology systems after canceling 16,700 flights in December.

A massive winter storm and flaws in crew scheduling software left the company unable to track pilots and flight attendants. It stalled operations for more than a week, eventually forcing the airline to shut about two-thirds of its operations to reset.

The company initially said its crew scheduling software, provided by GE Digital, was underperforming, but has since blamed the weather.

Either way, Jordan said the company is planning to expedite technology initiatives to ensure this glitch doesn’t happen again. The debacle cost the company $800 million and pushed it to a loss in the fourth quarter, and likely another $250 million to $350 million in the first quarter.

Southwest spends about $1 billion a year on technology infrastructure and plans to spend about $1.3 billion this year, not including in-flight upgrades such as better wireless Internet and power outlets in seats on inbound planes.

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Woods spent 13 years at Southwest Airlines, during which time he was involved in some of the company’s key technology initiatives, including the integration of the acquired AirTran and the introduction of a new reservations system from Amadeus in 2017.

At Southwest, the chief technology officer reports to Linda Rutherford, the company’s chief administrative and communications officer.

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